Once play begins, the GM will describe the situation the characters are in. This may include some background information the characters would know, a physical description of the environment, or other details about what is going on. If relevant, the GM may sketch details of the environment on paper or a whiteboard, or she may use miniatures or placeholders to illustrate the situation. Players may ask questions and describe how their characters act and respond to the circumstances. How long this takes will depend on the situation, and the GM will use her best judgement to draw events to their logical conclusion.
When the GM describes a situation and the players describe what they do, that is a scene. This is a very flexible idea. Sometimes a scene is something very strictly defined, with an start, middle and end. Sometimes it’s just a loose sketch for play to occur within.
Just as with characters, the building blocks of a scene are aspects. They are the true and interesting things about the scene, and as with characters, they are simple but powerful. There is no need to lay out every detail of a scene, only the ones that really matter. It is expected that the GM and players will colorfully extrapolate details from the general idea.
What’s in a Scene?¶
If there is ever a question about the scene, such as who is where, or some detail about the geography, this can be resolved in a few different ways.
First, the player may simply ask the GM, who will answer to the best of her ability.
Second, if it makes a lot of sense, the player may just proceed as if something is true. If the GM has not mentioned the windows of a room, you can still describe your character going over to the window. If you’re in an old castle and want to grab a sword off the wall, then there’s probably a sword on the wall. If it makes sense (and if it’s cool) then just go with it, and the GM will raise a flag if this is a problem.
Lastly, if the matter is uncertain, the GM may ask that the player spend a Fate point for the matter in question to be true. This is most appropriate when the detail is not unreasonable, but is also a bit of a stretch.
However things are resolved, remember that when in doubt, the aspects on the scene should provide helpful guidance in answering any questions.
Implicit and Explicit Scenes¶
In many situations, the scene is implicit. The GM has described the situation to the players and prompted them for their response. There’s not a lot of need to go into detail, since the focus is on the specific action. An implicit scene relies on everyone’s understanding of what’s going on, and allows for a lot of leeway in interpretation and improvisation.
In contrast, in an explicit scene, things are described in some detail, and the aspects in play on the scene are explicitly articulated. This usually happens because many things are happening (and it’s easier to keep track of them if they’re written down) or because the things that are happening are particularly important. .
Implicit scenes are used when the location is either changing frequently, or is mostly providing color. Explicit scenes can be thought of as sets in a movie - they’re places where a lot of stuff is going to happen. The distinction can be fluid - if the characters are having a conversation on the dining car of a train, that is probably an implicit scene. But if the waiters pull out submachine guns and a firefight breaks out, then it will probably transition to an explicit scene.
For example, if an implicit scene is taking place in a dark warehouse, then it probably has the aspects Dark and Warehouse. Everyone knows what dark means, and warehouse probably suggests that there are rows of boxes, maybe some scaffolding overhead. You can explore the details as you go.
In an explicit scene, the GM takes the time to write down all of these aspects, and there are some rules related to what it may cost her to add certain things. In an implicit scene, they go without saying - the aspects will come up if they seem relevant.
The aspects on a scene matter a great deal because they help determine how hard or easy it is to do things. Hitting a target might not be hard on its own, but if it’s Dark and Foggy then it’s probably going to be harder.
Uncertainty and Action¶
A lot of play will take the form of a conversation between the players and the GM. The rules may inform this play (characters may be have in accordance with aspects, for example) but they largely won’t come up during this sort of back and forth. As long as characters are doing things that make sense with little risk, there is not much call to introduce the rules.
It is only when there is meaningful uncertainty that we reach for the dice. That is, in the course of our conversation, we have come to a point where:
- There are many possible reasonable outcomes, and it is not a matter of simply choosing one.
- It matters (to the characters, and possibly the players) how the outcome unfolds.
The complexity of this uncertainty may range from the straightforward (does the duchess laugh at your joke?) to the very complicated (can you four musketeers fend of these six guardsmen?). Thankfully, complicated situations are just made up of lots of little simple situations.
Dice are used to resolve simple situations. The underlying logic is simple: Roll high, and things go the way you want. Roll low and they don’t. You are more likely to roll high with things your character is good at.
The resolution process has a few simple steps:
- Establish Action
- Establish Difficulty
- Change the Situation
- Roll Dice
- Determine Resolution.
First, decide what the character is doing and why. Sometimes the outcome is very direct (“I want to pick this lock, so I can open the door”) but sometimes it’s a little fuzzy (“I want to make a good joke to impress the duchess with my wit”), but it should always be clear. Usually, this statement of intent is what moves play otu of conversational mode and into resolution.
If there is an aspect that might help the character with this, the player can indicate it, and so long as its included in their description of action. If they do, they’ll get a +2 bonus when it comes time to roll the dice.
For Example: Piper needs to break the ice with the duchess, so she makes a particularly good joke during a conversation in hopes of dazzling her with wit. The GM thinks this could go either way, and there’s definitely investment in the outcome, so she treats that as establishing action and asks Piper’s player if she’s using any aspects. Piper points to her “Charming” aspect, and the GM nods, content because that’s already been part of the scene.
The GM will then determine the difficulty of that action, based on the aspects in play. The difficulty starts at 0, and each aspect that clearly makes the task more difficult increases the difficulty by +2. As the GM describes the situation, she should include those difficulties as she frames the scene.
Importantly, an aspect must create an obvious problem. If it only might be a problem, then it will be addressed later.
For Example: The GM has previously noted that the Duchess is exceptionally composed, and has described her as keeping a solid poker face throughout. She uses that to set the difficulty at 2.
At this point, if there are any other aspects that might influence the outcome, the player and GM may invoke those aspects by spending a fate point into the bowl and adding two to either their bonus (if a player) or the difficulty (if the GM). The only limit on what aspects can be invoked is the sensibility of everyone playing, but the aspects need to be incorporated into the description of action. This can be done in any order, so long as there are Fate Points to spend, and ends when both sides are ready to roll.
Three important things to note:
- If this is an implicit scene, we assume a spirit of generosity - anything that has been described as part of the scene that seems interesting and meaningful can be called upon as an aspect. In an explicit scene, these aspects are all written down, so there’s less wiggle room.
- You can’t benefit from the same aspect twice, so the aspect used in establishing action and difficulty can’t be used now (except perhaps by the other side)
- Anyone at the table can spend, if they can find a way that makes sense. This is easiest if the character is in the scene, but that’s not mandatory.
For Example: The GM notes it’s a large party, so it’s pretty noisy. She drops a fate point in the bowl (implicitly invoking the Large Party) aspect. That increases the difficulty from 2 to 4. Piper’s player looks at her sheet and doesn’t see anything she can reasonably use. However, before the party, she researched the Duchess, and has an aspect for that noted on her status sheet. She tosses a Fate Point in the bowl, noting that she knows the kind of joke the Duchess likes. Her bonus goes from +2 to +4. At this point, both the GM and player are content
Roll the Dice¶
Fate dice have six sides. Two of them are marked with a +, two with a -, and two are blank. When you roll the the dice, you add them up, with the +’s equalling +1, and the -’s equalling –1. So, for example: + + - 0 = +1. Add the dice to the bonus from all invoked aspects and compare it to the difficulty. If the total equals or exceed the difficulty, then it is a success. If not, then it is a failure. But it’s not over yet!
For Example: Piper rolls the dice and gets - - + 0, for -1. She adds her +4 for being charming for a total of +3. However, the GM set the difficulty at 4, because the Duchess is Composed, so Piper is currently failing by 1.
At this point, the dice have hit the table, and the situation looks like it’s going to go a certain way. But sometimes there’s a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (and vice versa).
After the dice have rolled, both the player and the GM have the option of altering the situation. Mechanically, this is the same as Making Adjustments, but each Fate Point spent needs to be reflected in the action fo the scene. It might be only a heartbeat, but something happens that respects the dice, and also reflects the expenditure. As with tMaking Adjustments, this may go back and forth until both sides are satisfied.
Only after this back and forth concludes is the roll resolved as a success or a failure. Invoking detrimental and beneficial aspects can feel a bit mechanical at first, but with practice it should adopt the cadence of a conversation.
For Example: he GM describes the moment of silence in the wake of the joke, where Piper knows it’s about to fall flat. She’s out of Fate Points and out of Ideas, but another player notes that his character, Leo, has the aspect “Boisterous”. He tosses a Fate Point into the bowl and describes how Leo is the first to laugh, infectiously. That bumps Piper’s roll to a +5, enough to succeed by 1. The GM is comfortable with this, and describes the Duchess’s mouth curling up fractionally, with a sparkle in her eyes.
Hang On, Why Would I Do That?¶
Mechanically oriented players may have noted that there is no “point” in spending Fate Points before the roll. If you roll well, you’ll save points, ad if you roll poorly, you’d have had to spend them anyway! So why not always just save them for the Scramble?
So, you can absolutely do that, but you’ll find a lot of situations go subtly wrong. Because the Scramble needs to respect the outcome, there’s a lot less leeway in terms of what aspects make sense to bring to bear.
By waiting for the Scramble, you are also letting the GM off the hook. Just as it’s harder for a player to scramble to turn a failure into a victory, it’s harder for the GM to turn a victory into a failure (while still respecting the dice).
There’s no right way to do it, but things will play out differently depending on how you play it out.
If the player succeeds, ask the question: “Does this resolve the matter clearly?” If yes, you’re set. WThe player describes the outcome, though the GM may ask him to restate things if he deviates too far from play. After that, move on to the next event in play.
If not, then the scene will probably continue, but it will be changed in some way - the player has the option to do one of the following:
- Add an aspect to the scene
- Remove an aspect from the scene. If that’s the only aspect on a card, go ahead and remove the card.
Similarly, if the player fails, ask the question: “Does this resolve the matter clearly?” If yes, you’re set. The GM describes the outcome, then move on to the next event in play.
If not, then the scene will probably continue, but it will be changed in some way - the GM has the option to do one of the following:
- Add an aspect to the scene
- Remove an aspect from the scene
- Offer a bargain
The first two options are identical to the player’s options. Offering a bargain is a special way to resolve the scene - the GM may offer the players an outcome they like (such as a resolution on their terms) but with a price. The price is either explicit (“You can make it in time, but you’ll have to leave your gear behind”) or implicit (in which case the GM gets to take a fate point from the bowl).